5B Artists + Media Taking Metal To The Main Street (And Main Stream) With UFC Champ Josh Barnett, Knotfest.com
Bob Johnsen, Cory Brennan and Justin Arcangel
Like many artist management companies, 5B Artists + Media was looking forward to a banner year in 2020, notably with major a North American amphitheatre tour from superstar client Slipknot as well as the 50-plus-date “Metal Tour Of The Year” featuring also-clients Megadeth/Lamb of God/Trivium (and In Flames) – a big tour in any year, but also a major comeback story for Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine after undergoing cancer treatment and with new material.
This as the company was already building momentum with its roster of almost-only heavy metal artists, with Japan-grown BabyMetal selling out the Forum in Los Angeles, Viking ship-riding melodic Swedish metal band Amon Amarth selling out LA’s Palladium three months in advance, and book deals, films and branded beverages from multiple artists growing the scene and thriving.
While the pandemic hit the U.S. in mid-March, with South By Southwest and Ultra Music Festival being called off and Coachella falling next in what became a rapid domino effect, 5B’s biggest client may have had what was the first concert industry casualty a few months prior.
Joseph Okpako / WireImage –
Not your kind: Slipknot, pictured at Download festival 2019 in at Donington Park in England, has become an outdoor festival headliner and curator with its own Knotfest festival, amphitheatre tour and even a cruise.
“Knotfest Japan was the first festival in the world to cancel,” says 5B founder and CEO Cory Brennan, who signed Slipknot while working at Roadrunner Records and has helped guide the band to worldwide counter-culture significance. Knotfest Japan was to take place March 20-21, forcing Brennan and 5B to make the call in late February, a time when many still thought the coronavirus wouldn’t – or couldn’t – impact the United States.
“It’s crazy, I have so many emails from state officials, promoters, agents and managers feeling like there was nothing to worry about, and then it very suddenly shut our whole world down,” adds Brennan, who also had Slipknot (supported by fellow 5B client Behemoth) and Megadeth touring Europe (separately) at the time, when it became a concern for the artists to wrap up their tours and make it home.
It was a stark contrast from just a few weeks earlier.
“In February, it was, ‘Let’s high five, I’ve got three amphitheatre tours coming out this summer, we’ve got all these records happening, our acts are playing big festivals, and there’s Knotfests all over the world.’ It went from all that to, ‘OK, holy shit, all that’s gone. We have to figure out how to pivot and adapt.’ Our artists are still going to have bills whether they’re touring or not.”
But the company and its top brass, including 5B President Bob Johnsen and President of Artist Management & Touring Justin Arcangel, got a hold of things and assessed the situation. It was time to work or, rather, keep working.
“I’ve not laid anyone off or reduced anyone’s salary,” Brennan says, with 5B, founded in 2007, having offices in Culver City, Calif., New York and Birmingham UK, itself known as a heavy metal homeland as the birthplace of Black Sabbath. “I’m very proud of that, but to do that, it means being really smart with the money we currently have in the bank but also trying to generate new money. The first month was focused on that – how can we do that, what do we have?”
The first order of business was using a powerful platform they already had in place but hadn’t built out to its fullest yet – knotfest.com.
“For a long time I noticed a void, there was no media platform that really spoke to the heavy culture the way I wanted it to, the way I wanted the Knotfest fans to read it,” Brennan says. “We worked really hard, got Knotfest.com up in about a month. It launched May 27 and within the first few days we had 100,000 unique visitors and knew we had something.”
The platform is nearly a Disney+ for metal heads, with a news hub, featured content including video premieres, archival streams and interview series with artists from the 5B roster and beyond, including Slipknot founding member Shawn “Clown” Crahan’s “Electric Theatre” in which he has interviewed everyone from Code Orange frontman Jami Morgan to original Knotfest producer John Reese, formerly of Synergy Global Entertainment.
“In my career no one really understands the Knot because no one’s really asking the questions that lend to the future,” says Crahan, whose vision for the band has by all accounts come to fruition since he pitched it to Brennan in the ‘90s during his time at Roadrunner Records.
See also: Clown Talks COVID Impact: ‘This Is Devastating’
“There’s a master list to get to, a list from day one, and we’ve stayed the course. Recently, we put up the portal, and there’s a lot of good things with that. There’s a lot of people missing out on what they love most, which is music. So why not make something very informative? That’s really what it is,” Crahan adds. “I just get tired of the corporate racket, it’s very predictable. I could make a lot of money on the side predicting normal corporate interviews about a new album or band. We’re really trying to make a difference.” Crahan admits he’s not an avid podcast listener, but is happy to do his part to keep the conversation interesting and informative.
“I generally tune out this world of information overload,” he says. “I don’t necessarily want to know everything. I’m tired of everybody being right, because everybody is wrong. It’s disgusting.”
Ken Ishii/ Getty Images – Josh Barnett
The Metal Bringer: Latest 5B signing and MMA star Josh Barnett, known as Warbringer, celebrates a win over Roy Nelson in a heavyweight bout in Japan in 2015.
The Warmaster Cometh
While the Knotfest.com revamp is an upgrade of an already existing platform and centered on the company’s biggest client, 5B is also making inroads to new avenues, perhaps most strikingly with with the signing of former UFC Heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, known as “the Warmaster” and himself an avid metal-head.
A mutual interest had been growing for years between 5B senior manager Adam Foster, based in Birmingham UK, and Barnett, with Foster a Muay Thai fighter himself and Barnett an authority on heavy metal. Foster was run through the ringer when invited to train with Barnett, something he thinks helped earn the trust of the 6’3, 250-pound bruiser.
“We became friends from that, and I think he took some comfort that I could get through those workouts,” Foster says.
See Josh Barnett: From Warbringer To Metal Bringer
The authenticity and expertise was there on Barnett’s end as well, with Foster calling him an “authority” on heavy metal culture.
“I’d go to shows and he’d be there, we’d go dinner and he’d been invited by the artists, and we became friends by that point,” Foster says. “During lockdown I was taking a lot of long walks and I’d be texting Josh just out of curiosity looking at his business. Being such a fan he said he’d like to at some point get into the industry.”
Foster took on Barnett as a new type of client for 5B, using the company’s expertise in marketing to revamp his merch store and website, and boost branded products for existing endeavors like Barnett’s Warbringer whiskey line.
– Adam Foster
“It was a very natural process, it’s been maybe six weeks and we talk every day and share new ideas every day,” Foster says. “It’s about building the brand around him himself. He didn’t have a real hub for everything he does and people aren’t aware of how many things he does and how cool they are. We centralized everything and put it into one place, and that was the launchpad for everything we’ve got planned long-term.”
Short-term plans include expanding the whiskey line to Europe, taking Barnett’s own wrestling platform worldwide, continuing his MMA career and maximizing his merch line. “And that’s really just right now some of the ideas,” Foster says. “Long term we have some that are much bigger.”
But Barnett brings clout of his own to the roster, with his MMA and wrestling fanbase often already part of heavy music and culture. He’s become an ambassador of sorts with appearances on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, curating the popular Adrenaline Workout Spotify playlist and appearing in videos for Swedish metal band Amon Amarth (see sidebar).
“For 5B it is a brand-new thing,” Foster says. “I don’t want to say it’s an experiment but everything we are doing is brand-new to us.”
While Barnett is the priority, Foster does believe 5B could take on more non-musician metal ambassadors, “As long as it has the ability to cross over to the culture that we represent. I think that’s the only way it can exist. It has to have that ability to draw people from our culture. Yes, there is probably more we can do with wrestling and MMA, but Josh Barnett is certainly unique when it comes to that criteria.”
For Barnett, it’s about authenticity and quality, something 5B takes seriously with its branded products, such as branded beers from Megadeth, Lamb of God (non-alcoholic) and Danish metal legend King Diamond, who all have their own specialty brews out.
“There are enough things and people and opportunities out there to just put your efforts into what you care about, what you’re most interested in, and the things that drive you most,” Barnett says, referring to not only metal but his own line of whiskeys, which has repeatedly sold out, although as an acquired taste to the point of coming with a warning that it may only appeal to serious smoke seekers. “Then, when you go to sell any of these ideas or projects, you can speak from expertise that comes from passion rather than just a pamphlet, and that’s a completely different scenario. You can be the person that takes a more obscure thing and, with your presentation of it and belief in it, maybe you can make it mainstream.”
“My goal isn’t to make everything mainstream, either,” he adds. “I just want to create the best, most badass shit that I can.”
Roberto Ricciuti / Redferns – Trivium
Trivium Performs At Glasgow Academy GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – APRIL 19: Matt Heafy of Trivium performs on stage at O2 Academy on April 19, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by
Taking Metal To The Main Stream
The current live music landscape is limited but far from dead, as proven by 5B client Trivium’s “A Light Or A Distant Mirror” livestream gig becoming a true event with pre- and post-show footage and full production – to the tune of 12,000 tickets sold and a cool $100,000-worth of total e-commerce during it.
“Bands can do it, as long as you make the product quality and put effort into and make it unique,” says longtime manager Justin Arcangel, president of 5B Aritst Management & Touring, who also manages and co-manages Amon Amarth, Behemoth and others (see News Lead Off here for expanded story).
The success means more streams are on the horizon, including extreme Polish metal band Behemoth doing a controversial performance from a Catholic church, and a 38-date virtual tour from Hawthorne Heights, among others.
More streaming success was demonstrated by 5B client and European thrash metal legends Kreator, one of the headliners of the “Wacken World Wide” event, as the popular German metal Mecca went virtual with a “Mixed Reality” concert viewed by 11 million people, when even organizers were expecting more like 4 million.
Wacken World Wide (see page 14) was co-produced by Live Nation and Wacken promoters ICS, which is is part of the 5B fold in partnership with Cobra agency.
While the concerts, even post-COVID, will surely continue to be a major focus of 5B, it’s important to both grow the culture and revenue streams for the clients in ways that excite the artist as well as consumer. Alcohol products count, with Megadeth moving close to 10 million pints worth since launching its first branded beer in 2016, and Slipknot’s Iowa whiskey moving six figures worth of units since launching just last year – a good portion of that time during quarantine, making it “an unmitigated success” according to 5B President Bob Johnsen.
“[Beverage products are] kind of a work of joy on some level,” Johnsen says. “It’s something they are happy of step out of the typical routine to do – they don’t have to go tour in a far-flung country away from their families for six shows per continent – and it ends up being something where money gets delivered straight to their homes. They work on the recipe and work with the brew masters, they do pour events and other things, but it’s totally a bolt-on thing and a clearly logical extension. The beauty of our genre is it fits.”
Johnsen notes that their artists typically can’t simply rely on checks from music streams, adding with a laugh “although we have no problem with the streaming services.”
“What we do is go out and play shows, headline festivals around the world and in addition we put together a portfolio basically of revenue streams for our artists, including stuff like beer and whiskey and VIP meet and greets, multiple merchandise drops over the course of a quarter, creating this kind of connectivity with consumers that is so much further-reaching than just playing shows or racking up streaming numbers. We’re not pop artists that can collect streams based on auto-play, we have to earn it.”
The other beauty of the genre is the diehard fandom that has been built over years, and in many cases decades.
Gus Phillipas – Bob Johnsen
“The fans never disappoint,” Johnsen adds. “They are with us, as long as you don’t do anything egregiously shitty or whatever, they are with you until you’re done, until you retire. We – as the marketers of these artists – have the honor of coming up with these means of fan support.”
Despite being home to a roster of popular, culturally significant and financially successful artists, there’s a notable chip on the shoulders of the metal community from top to bottom, seemingly striving for wider cultural significance or to be given its proper notoriety by gatekeepers.
“One of our hardest jobs as metal managers is marketing what we do beyond the core audience,” adds Arcangel. “We run into roadblocks all the time. The major mass media, the magazines or blogs, even brands looking for sponsorship, don’t come to metal because they’re not run by metal fans.
“So sometimes it’s a source of frustration, we have clients with quantifiable global fans, a lot of them, but getting people to buy in is sometimes difficult.
“We all know what Coachella or Pitchfork festival does because it’s broadcast everywhere, but if you tell someone the numbers from one of the Danny Wimmer Festivals, that there were 100,000 people there, they don’t understand that. But that’s happening globally.”
“It makes sense, metal was created as outsider music, it is outsider music, but sometimes it’s nice to be included in some of that stuff,” Arcangel adds.
“It’s a bigger story for us to tell as managers and break down those walls.” s